Japanese retailer Muji has ventured into the world of autonomous driving after launching the world’s first self-driving bus that can operate in all weather conditions.
Teaming up with Finnish autonomous driving company Sensible 4, its GACHA bus has been tested on the streets of Helsinki with a view to public operation in April.
Muji’s involvement in the project involved providing the vehicle’s design, and developing the functional aesthetic and user experience. The design for the GACHA was inspired by a toy, with interior seating following the rounded square shape of the bus, creating more space for passengers, while the LED light belt serves as both headlights and an external communication screen.
Sensible 4 provided the technology for the bus, including positioning, navigation and obstacle detection sensors and cameras.
Autonomy company RoboSense provided its cold-resistant all-weather Lidar for the autonomous bus, with a 16-beam mechanical Lidar environment perception system to operate vehicles in harsh winter and other severe weather conditions. The Lidar “sees” a 3D world through emitting and receiving lasers pulses, with point cloud algorithms that accurately recognize obstacles, even in snow and ice.
“The GACHA development started when the Sensible 4 team, working back then with the first generation of robot buses, noticed that they just don’t perform at all even in light rain, not to mention the typical winter conditions in Finland,” said Harri Santamala, CEO of Sensible 4.
“Completely autonomous self-driving technology is not here yet. Most self-driving cars can operate only in ideal weather conditions and well-marked roads. This is what Sensible 4 has managed to change through repeated tests in the harsh winter conditions of the Finnish Lapland.”
GACHA will begin operating for the general public in Espoo in April 2019, rolling out to Hämeenlinna, Vantaa and Helsinki later in 2019. Muji and Sensible 4 are currently planning to produce the first GACHA fleet for use on public roads in 2020 for various cities in Finland and abroad.
Muji and Sensible 4 aim for the self-driving shuttle fleets to operate as a part of the cities’ existing transportation systems in 2021, with a long-term objective of establishing partnerships with other pioneering cities around the world.